After renouncing worldly life and taking initiation as a monk, Mahāvīra had to face various attacks – upasarga – as part of his progress towards becoming a Jina. But he ‘bore them, forgave them, endured them, went beyond them’, never departing from the behaviour of a perfect ascetic. This lasted for 12 years until he gained omniscience.

This painting could depict the episode where a poor brahmin, shown on the right, complained that he had not benefited from Mahāvīra’s giving away his possessions before he became a monk. Thus he came to ask the future Jina for half of his garment. Whoever he is, this character has a rather impudent and challenging posture.

The long protruding eye is a typical feature of western Indian painting. Its origin is unclear.

Other visual elements

As with many Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts, there is a clear intention to make the manuscript a valuable and remarkable object in itself. This aim is signalled by:

  • the red background of the text
  • the use of gold ink instead of the standard black ink for the text
  • the decorated borders with floral arabesques and geometrical designs in blue
  • the division of the text into two parts along the folio’s centre by a central margin holding a red disk surrounded by blue designs.

Below the disk, the number 40 refers to the folio number.


The elaborate script is Jaina Devanāgarī, which is here like calligraphy. It is used for writing numerous Indian languages, here Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit.

This script is notable because it is an old type in the way the sounds e and o are notated when used with a consonant. It is known as pṣṭhamātrā script.